Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
THE COLLEGE HOOPS REPORT:
#1 KENTUCKY ROLLS TO 28-AND-OH
WITH 74-56 WIN OVER MISS STATE …
PLUS IT’S NOW-OR-NEVER TIME FOR
A TRIO OF NCAA TOURNEY HOPEFULS
AND A LOOK AT THE (MORE-THAN-LIKELY)
ONE-BID LEAGUES …
NBA NEWS & NOTES —
THE BULLS WITHOUT ROSE (AND IT’S NOT
LOOKING GOOD SO FAR!)
Let the record state that the Kentucky Wildcats still have not lost a hoops game since last year’s national championship tilt — a 60-54 hard-luck loss to the UConn Huskies — and this year’s super-streak continued last night in Starkville where a 24-4 second-half run put the ‘Cats over the top (although most folks “pushed” as Kentucky was an 18-point game-time betting favorite) in a half-filled joint because of a rare southern snowstorm.
Afterwards, hard-to-please Kentucky head coach John Calipari droned on and on regarding what players didn’t perform well in the heat of battle but on this night 6-foot-10 frosh Trey Lyles — a relative unknown on this 10-deep roster — soared for a game-high 18 points while draining 7-of-12 FG attempts to go along with a perfect 4-of-4 evening at the free-throw line.
Lyles has bounced back from an earlier-season illness that kayoed him for a total of three games and on this night he powered up a Kentucky team that led 36-27 at the break and then busted things open in a second half after things temporarily got tight at 41-37. Miss State took some ill-advised shots — a major problem -- and had several others swatted away by Kentucky’s big men and so the march rolls on with a home date against Arkansas on tap for Saturday.
Maybe you can make some “coin” wagering against Kentucky (28-0, 15-0) based on the game-to-game Las Vegas pointspreads but don’t make any sucker plays that the ‘Cats are gonna lose before we get to next month’s NCAA Tourney ‘cause that just ain’t gonna happen!
Note that it all started with a non-descript 85-45 home win against Grand Canyon way back on November 14th when many so-called experts were forecasting a national championship for the Kentucky Wildcats but few actually believed John Calipari’s crew would go this this deep into the season without a single loss
In case you were wondering, the biggest non-league wins on this Kentucky sked are those against Kansas, Providence, Texas, North Carolina, UCLA and Louisville (by a combined 125 points, we might add!)
Meanwhile, it’s time to turn up the heat on (at least) a trio of major-college basketball teams who are gunning for a berth in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
As we get set to flip the calendar page to March, these teams named below in today’s Jim Sez must crank out some wins between now and Selection Sunday or they’re curtains!
You may wish to call these guys “bubble teams” but we say now-or-never ‘cause they have not exactly been able to help themselves all that much in recent weeks.
So, here goes …
SAINT MARY’S (20-7, 12-4 WCC) — Are you of the mind that the Gaels are “in” already when it comes to making up this 68-team NCAA Tournament field?
Well, think again as this West Coast Conference team may have the magic 20 wins mark already but Saint Mary’s actually is just 5-4 SU (straight-up) since Jan. 22 and last weekend’s meltdown 70-60 home loss versus 6-point favorite Gonzaga was a killer when you consider that the Gaels blew a 17-point lead!
Okay, so two of these four losses in the past month-plus came against the mighty ‘Zags but a Jan. 31st home loss to Pepperdine and that ugly 82-60 loss at BYU on Feb. 12th did major damage to Saint Mary’s stock when it comes to this year’s “Big Dance”.
Now, Saint Mary’s finishes off regular-season action on the road versus San Francisco tonight and at Santa Clara on Saturday evening — teams the Gaels won by 13 points apiece at home earlier this season — and we say Randy Bennett’s club better win two or three more games (including the WCC Tournament) overall or else that so-so 54 RPI — and no signature non-league wins — will come back to haunt ‘em.
UCLA (17-12, 9-7 Pac-12) — Nope, we haven’t officially chucked the Bruins out of the NCAA Tournament discussion despite the fact Steve Alford’s hot-and-cold bunch hasn’t beaten anyone of note outside the conference and has staggered its way to a modest 6-5 SU record in its last 11 games since Jan. 22nd.
The Westwood gang — fresh off back-to-back losses at Arizona State and at Arizona — pounded 0 ½-point pup Washington on Wednesday night 88-66 and needs to run the table with this regular-season-ending three-game home stand that also includes dates versus Washington State and archrival USC.
Then the Uclans must win at least one mini-tourney game too in order to get a real-live shot at an NCAA Tourney berth.
As we said, it’s now-or-never time for UCLA but the reason we haven’t dunked ‘em away into the waste basket is because the Pac-12 — from what we hear and what we read — likely will get six teams into the tourney field and so the Bruins are “still alive” in that hunt.
But stub your toe in any of these remaining home game and you’re cooked, Bruins!
ILLINOIS (17-11, 7-8 Big 10) — Gotta admit that we’ve never been quite sold on this 2014-15 edition of the Fighting Illini even though we consider head coach John Groce one of the few “plus coaches” in the land.
Consider that entering last night’s 68-60 loss at 7 ½-point fav Iowa this Illinois team ranked a middling 8th in the Big 10 in scoring offense (70.2 ppg) and 7th in scoring defense (63 ppg) and that there’s no true identity with this team at all.
Then dig a bit deeper and see that the Illini is 6-6 SU since Jan. 11th and now is coming off back-to-back-to-back losses against Wisconsin, Michigan State and the aforementioned Hawkeyes.
Did someone say now or never?
Okay, so let’s zoom ‘round the land and ask a batch of True or False questions regarding the more-than-likely one-bid leagues:
If Iona (23-6, 16-2) doesn’t win the MAAC Tournament it will still go to the NCAA’s … False.
The Gaels won this regular-season race with ease and does sport a respectable 46 RPI number but where’s the raise-your-eyebrow non-league win (there isn’t one!). Can’t lose six games in a so-called one-bid league and still think you’re gonna make the cut.
Murray State (24-4, 14-0) will get an invite even if it loses the Ohio Valley Conference mini-tourney next week … True.
The Racers have won 22 straight games and — as you can see — have yet to lose in the OVC with two games to go and head coach Steve Prohm (who should be in the mix for a big job this spring) should be rewarded with an at-large berth even with the somewhat shaky 72 RPI.
Hey, Murray State does rank 11th nationally in scoring offense (79.5 ppg) and is one of the more exciting mid-major teams out there in years.
Finally, the Mid-American Conference could have as many as seven teams finish with 10-or-more league wins and so you can expect more than one NCAA Tourney bid from here … False.
The MAC does have some great balance this season with the likes of Central Michigan, Toledo, Bowling Green and Kent State all owning twin-figure conference wins already but be sure this league’s only getting one bid because Toledo has the highest RPI at 64 and that’s simply not good enough for an invite. Win your mini-tourney or say bye-bye to an NCAA bid, boys and girls!
And now hear this …
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers keep rockin’-n-rollin’ through this College Basketball and NBA season with loads of winners right here online at www.jimhurley.com or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 — so go ahead and join the fun and profits today with all the hardwood action and remember the conference tournaments or so-called mini-tournies heat up next week with day-time action all throughout the month of March! We will keep you posted (of course).
NBA NEWS & NOTES
There are plenty of folks in the Windy City cringing about the latest knee injury to star point guard Derrick Rose — but excuse us for being “Monday Morning Quarterbacks” but where were the Bulls at the trade deadline when a slew of point guards were being moved?
Remember that Goran Dragic went from Phoenix-to-Miami, Reggie Jackson went from Oklahoma City-to-Detroit, Brandon Knight went from Milwaukee-to-Phoenix and Andre Miller went from Washington-to-Sacramento (among other deals) and yet the Bulls — apparently believing that Rose would stay fit through this marathon season — didn’t pull the trigger on a deal for a capable backup and so until further notice it appears fossil-like PG Kirk Hinrich (he’s started 22 games this year) will be “the man”.
Hey, we said it the day after the deadline that both Chicago and Cleveland shouldn’t stay put with smug looks on their faces — and now the Bulls not having a more accomplished/better point guard appears to be a monumental mistake.
Forget about the blame game involving “Rose’s minutes” — all that is a shot at well-respected head coach Tim Thibodeau who wouldn’t have
played Rose too much if the star guard didn’t feel okay to go — as this is all about the Bulls’ front office being better prepared in the event Rose suffered another likely season-ending injury.
Dragic, Jackson, Knight and Miller — and don’t forget ex-Philadelphia PG Michael Carter-Williams while we’re at it! — and yet the Bulls may well “go to war” this post-season with Hinrich and a mix-and-match crew of non-point guards all playing the lead guard role.
Shame, shame Chicago.
Last night’s woe-is-me 98-86 home loss versus 7-point pup Charlotte “featured” 24 assists on 34 made field goals by the Bulls with Hinrich kicking in a pair of “dimes” off the bench but will this be a rudderless ship or will the Bulls remember they’ve played quite well without Rose for much of the last two-plus seasons?
NOTE: Catch more College Basketball News & Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.